Hartwell House

Nominated by: Daisy Killick

Hartwell house is a stately home located in rural Buckinghamshire, near Aylesbury.

Hartwell House has a remarkable history, stretching back almost a thousand years to the reign of Edward the Confessor. It has been the seat of William Peveral the natural son of William the Conqueror; of John Earl of Mortaigne who succeeded his brother Richard the Lion Heart as King of England in 1199; and of Louis XVIII, the exiled King of France who held court there from 1809 to 1814. During the residence of the French Court, the roof was converted into a miniature farm, where birds and rabbits were reared in cages, while vegetables and herbs were cultivated in densely planted tubs. Shops were opened in the outbuildings.

Hartwell also was home to other royals over the years, even including Richard Hampden (d.1567) a member of one of England’s most illustrious families who entered the household of Queen Elizabeth I and rose to the position of ‘Chiefe Clerk of the Kychen unto the Queen’s Majestie’. Sir William Young, MP for Buckingham and later Governor of Tobago was a tenant of Hartwell from 1800 to 1808.

The house has a rich and varied history.  At one time Festivals of Peace and Temperance were held in the park; geological specimens from the ancient world were put on show in the Long Gallery and the Strong Room, and powerful telescopes were trained on the stars through the open roof of an observatory extension adjoining the Library (since demolished).  Dr. Lee was a champion of the technological revolution that reshaped English industry and agriculture, and in 1830 Hartwell became the target of a Luddite conspiracy. Several disgruntled farm workers plotted to burn the house but were rounded up by the local Constabulary. 100-years later the estate took on the appearance of a giant auction house as hordes of collectors and dealers descended on Hartwell for the 1938 sale of its contents. Those who came to view included Queen Mary and the Dukes and Duchesses of Gloucester and Kent.

For the duration of the Second World War Hartwell served as an Army billet, a training ground for British and American troops. Later, in 1956, Hartwell was let to The House of Citizenship, a finishing school and secretarial college which remained in occupation until 1983.

If Hartwell is remarkable for its history, it is also remarkable for its architecture, the house has both Jacobean and Georgian features with outstanding decorative ceilings and panelling, fine paintings and antique furniture in its elegant and spacious rooms.  The south and east fronts were built around 1760 and are characteristic of their period, The Great Hall is a masterpiece of English baroque design, and with the exception of the floor, which was originally flagged with Portland stone, remains virtually unchanged since its completion in around 1740. Work is thought to have begun around 1757 when Sir William Lee commissioned the magnificent equestrian statue of Frederick, Prince of Wales which now stands in the centre of the entrance drive to the north of the house.  The park boasts a fine collection of 18th century pavilions and monuments. Some of these date from the 1730’s when a magnificent topiary garden-planted in 1690 was finally brought to completion. The present bridge over the lake was erected at the end of the 19th century and is the central span of old Kew Bridge, built in the 18th century by James Paine, but dismantled in 1898 and divided up into lots and sold at auction.  The estate wall was completed in 1855, encrusted with fossils and rare stones from the grounds.

Hartwell House is now in the care of Historic House Hotels, who have undertaken a complete restoration of the house and grounds, under the direction of its chairman Richard Broyd and eminent Buckinghamshire architect Eric Throssell. The interior design and furnishings have been carefully chosen.  During the restoration great attention has been paid to the reinstatement of period, detail, particularly in those parts of the house damaged during the 1963 fire.  The gardens and park have been extensively restored. 

Hartwell House opened as a hotel in July 1989 and this famous stately home thus entered a new phase of its long and distinguished history. In 2008 Historic House Hotels, and the interests in all its properties, were donated to the National Trust.

Hartwell House was nominated by Daisy Killick, student at Bucks College Group